Shifting the Dialogue

In Inspiration, Portraiture
Scroll this

I know a couple of us have already talked about our experience at Camp Firefly, and I hope that you will stick around for just one more take away of the experience. Humor me and keep on reading…

I could tell you about what I learned about during the on and off camera flash class with Michelle Turner. Or I could gush about the tips and tricks Tracy Benjamin taught us about food styling. We could discuss composition from one of the best compostitioners (is that a word?) Pei Ketron, or I might tell you how much I love making image transfers with Courtney Cerruti- but none of that feels as important to me as what the very first speaker at camp had to say. And that isn’t because the other woman didn’t have something amazing to share, but because the keynote speaker shared words and ideas with us that literally feed and bleed into all the other technical and creative things that all the fabulous and talented ladies discussed over the five days at Westerbeke Ranch. And ultimately, what we as students and teachers do with our photography once we left camp.

What Karen Beard shared with us was about the story and the dialog we tell every.single.time we click the shutter and post a photo.

I want you take a second and think about just how many images you see every day.

Walker-Smith says we’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970’s to as many as 5,000 a day today. “

FIVE THOUSAND images a day…. let that sink in. And guess what, as photographers, bloggers, and (photo centric) social media users – we are part of that. We get the chance to shape the story in those 5000+ images people see.

Karen flipped through a set of typical images that we normally see in those 5000 ads. Were there women and girls in many of these images? Yup. But I will give you 3 guess about how they were being portrayed and viewed in those adds…. Then, Karen pulled up images from Shestockhere is the mission statement of the company:

Shestock is compelling and visceral female-centric images created exclusively by professional women photographers.

Our mission is to provide insightful and inspired visions of the real lives of real women.  Our images help repair a long-broken dialog between marketers and the women they are trying to reach.  We believe it is possible to simultaneously satisfy the needs of buyers, women, and our talented artists by offering only images that help bridge the connections between each.

Shestock supports the efforts of women photographers to improve the visual dialogue directed at them, ­to make it more honest, authentic and empowering. Shestock launched the first female-­centric stock image collection in 2012, comprised exclusively of imagery by women photographers. In addition to curating positive imagery, Shestock also supports the education and inspiration of everyone to fill their social media feeds with empowering female­-centric imagery through “The She is Me” campaign.

How does that grab your attention? Now, click over in a new tab to the Shestock site and get a good look at the mission statement in action. Karen’s words and images hit me hard (and probably a little bit harder then they would have a day before, because the day she spoke was on November 9th, 2016). After we headed back to our cabins that night, I sat there wondering… opened up my Instagram feed and somewhat frantically, scrolled through my photos. What was my contribution, what story had I been telling to my audience? How many of my images were/are female or gender neutral?  And what story was I quite possibly, mindlessly telling. Had I become part of the broken dialog?

Want to see what I found?
78focusinphotography_stock-1-of-1-5 focusinphotography_stock-1-of-1-2focusinphotography_stock-1-of-1-6focusinphotography_stock-1-of-1focusinphotography_stock-1-of-1-7

To my huge relief, the majority of my photos are very female-centric and gender neutral. I was actually pretty stoked to realize just how many amazing female business owners, creatives and subjects I tend to and get the privileged to photograph (yeah!). But there is one up there that wouldn’t fit in with the mission statement, can you pick it out? It is actually one of my favorite wedding images, and now I look at in a new way -I feel a little differently about it now….

The photo of the groom leading his new bride through the willows wouldn’t make the SheStock cut.  But why?

Because the man is leading the story. And while it isn’t uncommon to have a man leading the way, how would it change the story if the bride was leading the way for her new husband? And what about the other image two images of the couples in this set? How are these different stories? The image of the couple sitting together with tier eyes closed feels very neutral to me, they are even in the action and the energy of the photo and what about the final photo of the newly married bride and groom? I feel like this one gets a pass because all eyes are on her- she is leading the party, leading the way. All eyes are on her, but her giant smile and glow make this story clear and fully in her control.

I have truly started to think more about how and what I am photographing. I want to be clear that I haven’t stop photographing men.  I haven’t stopped capturing moments that seem beautiful, genuine and tell the unique story of my clients. Nope, not even close. If anything, I have started to capture and see them in a new light. Case in point, this tender moment between a father and his two sons that I took just last month.hartleywebready_fip-54-of-86

I have two very amazing guys in my life, my son and my husband – and to not see them in my lens would be detrimental to our family’s photographic story. I plan on aiming my camera at them always.

The point to all of this is that I want my daughter AND my son to start to see females in the frame not as subjects or as the follower, but as humans with important and strong rolls.  I could throw out some other statistics about girls and science and math and how it relates back to all of this, but I will let you do that research and find out for yourself just how important it is to teach our children that they ARE the future no matter what gender they are- and we can start with what photos we chose to take and share every day.

A woman can pull a beer, can be working out without makeup on and actually be sweating (bad ass and beautiful). She can be leading a meeting and explaining how something complex is solved to a room full of men. She can be connecting with her lover in a tender and emotional moment. Notice the camera angle you are using, the posturing and the connections being made. What is each ‘character’ in the story is doing (or not doing)? These little things are where I am slowing down a bit more and rethinking when I aim my camera and fire the trigger.

focusinphotography_stock-1-of-1-4I challenge you to go through your feed right now and see what messages you are sending with each of your clicks. As photographers (male or female) we are STORY TELLERS who have the ability to shift the conversation in a powerful and very important way.

Keep chasing that light, Vanessa

PS. Want to learn more?  SheStock offers free classes on creating strong imagery and spotting gender bias. If you would like to take part in a free online class, please sign up here.

PPS. I have NOT been paid, nor is ViewFinders connected to SheStock. I am sharing the link because it is something that grabbed my attention and is now on my list for the new year, and maybe it will be on yours now too!


  1. So fascinating! I’m totally going to at the very least have this in the back of my head as I shoot. It is something I try to be conscious of especially with couple posing – setimes tricky with height and size differences ?

    • yes! one thing that I have learned this year is to ask my couples to “have one stand behind the other” rather than having specifically directing the man or the woman to be here or there directly. It’s powerful and really important to let them lead their story, rather than for us to assume it.

  2. Thanks for getting my mind going this morning. I’ve been toying with an idea that follows this same vein. Perhaps next year is the time to begin! Also, that shot with the father and his two sons so freakin’ good.

    • I am definetly going to take the She is me class this year! let me know if you are going to jump in as well. (and yes, that image of the boys is really special- we need to see more men in this tender and loving role!xo)

  3. SO much food for thought, Vanessa. Thank you for this!

    • Some of the images she shared with us were subtle and some not so much. But it had my head spinning and realizing that I have the power to shift the story and that is SO important!

  4. Oh my goodness, Vanessa! What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful post. It really has me thinking. Thank you. x

  5. vanessa!!! this is so powerful!! i will have to think about the images i consume and think, too, about the images my daughters consume. how they see themselves because of what they see out there. this would make such an interesting discussion for a high school photog class!!! xoxo

  6. Loving this Vanessa! So happy to see you look back on your images with this new perspective (and be generally pleased with what you found!). This is a great way to share what we learned from Karen.

    • I felt like I had to talk about this part of camp, it was so impactful to me and she had my head spinning! I wish I would have taken her classes on Thursday- she was really great!

Comments are closed.